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Think About It

Fray

This post may be inspired by the fact that I have spent a lot of time on a boat this week. Although all things considered it is pretty irrelevant. However, sitting on a beach that only a handful of people will ever set foot on, at the southernmost tip of the country gave me some thinking space. There is nothing like watching the world go by without you.

We forgot an anchor. So we couldn’t tie down the boat and had to make sure that it didn’t hit the rocks. All we had were ropes. Connections that were responsible getting us home, rather than leaving us shipwrecked. They couldn’t have been more than an inch wide, but the strength of those threads were the only things that were keeping us going.

Have you ever tried to cut a piece of rope? As soon as you slice through, each individual component starts to fray – you can never get a clean cut or tie off all of the loose ends. No matter how thick the rope is, it is never the same again after it has been cut. It is no longer a support or a connection – it is irrevocably broken, even if from a glance it looks okay.

Every relationship is a piece of rope. We tie them between ourselves so that when we fall into the water, they suddenly become taut so we don’t drown. They rely on each other, as do we. Each one is a different shape, size, colour as are we. But too many ropes pull us in different directions and weigh us down. If we do not look after them, then it is only a matter of time before they break. Yet sometimes, it is appropriate for us to cut them.

In the last year, I have cut a lot of ropes. A lot of them have frayed and lost their use, or loosened and have failed to be supports. At the time it felt extremely difficult. As if I was slowly cutting away the life support and heading into open water alone. But there are some weights that we just cannot take and are not good for us. Some connections that are not worth holding onto if they are pulling you further and further down.

You just have to take a deep breath and forget about the fray. Leave the loose ends. Just cut the cord and open your eyes. I promise you’ll get to the crimson horizon faster.

I am enough.

Watch this. Make a cup of tea or press the spacebar on your keyboard to pause Spotify. Then plug in your headphones (if you haven’t already) and spend 20 minutes watching this. I promise you that it will be worth it. I am always sceptical of Ted talks because they are so hit and miss, but this one was recommended to me. And hence I am recommending it to you. If that is not enough, then in various articles and journals, this talk has been cited as one of the most popular of all time and has racked over 15,000,000 views. Has that piqued your interest?

Many of us engage in mock psychology. We ask questions and listen to our friends and loved ones when they are troubled and we try to help. Everyone has a story and in the span of our lives, depending on how sociable or travelled we are, we hear so many different perspectives and viewpoints. As we grow older, the noise gets louder and louder and it becomes difficult to hear what we want to do. The natural connections that we make start to consume us.

That is why we are happiest when we are children. We are inherently selfish in our purpose to explore and society deems it acceptable for us to develop. So when is it time to stop exploring and developing? When are we supposed to know enough to be depended on? When we start university, a job or a family? I don’t really have answers to these questions, mainly because I am still trying to answer the first one. All I know that is after listening to thousands of stories (and I mean really listening) it makes it difficult to appear vulnerable.

Vulnerability is synonymous with weakness, frailty and naivety and so people naturally avoid the label. I have done my absolute best to do the same. I do not want to be vulnerable, and neither do I want people to perceive me in that way. But have I felt vulnerable? Yes. All the time. This is the magic of what I believe Brown conveys. We have to accept that vulnerability is inevitable, and it can debilitate us if we allow it to.

“I deserve love and belonging because I feel I am worthy of love and belonging” – it seems a simple enough proposition. It comes from within. The whole-hearted are those that are not afraid of taking risks even though it may lead to disaster. They are mavericks who want to write the next story even if it means breaking the pen. This can be condensed into a three word affirmation – “I AM ENOUGH.”

I have watched this talk about 10 times already and every time it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Because no one is exempt from this – not even Brown herself. We are all surrounded by connection, but isn’t it time we started telling ourselves we were worthy? Even it is just once by reading this?

Let The Dust Settle

It isn’t true when people say that setbacks make you stronger. It depends how many you have in a given time period. If you are constantly taking one step forward, and two steps back, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that you are going backwards. I felt like I was going backwards for a long time. It is always difficult to talk about this sort of thing, even on here, because it always comes across as self-indulgent. The truth is that this is my own form of therapy – the talki-I mean the writing cure. So it is slightly self-indulgent.

People don’t like to talk about the things that stop them from getting out of bed in the morning. It isn’t the natural conversation that you have over the dinner table. We prefer to talk about how our families are doing, or how our communities are changing, or what we are up to right now. We like to talk about politics, but not the drama that is going on in our lives. No one wants to know, we tell ourselves. They have their own problems to deal with and they won’t care about this insignificant speck of dust on the windshield of my existence. So I’ll keep it to myself, and we’ll talk about how muggy the weather has been recently instead.

But do you know the problem with dust? It builds. Soon, if we forget or choose to ignore the dust then it collects so much on this windshield that we can no longer see through it. And that is when an arrogant kid comes along and writes out “Clean Me!” on the front of it to make matters worse. I let the dust settle for too long.

I have never really been good at analysing the things that I do wrong. I’ve always got too many questions, and I’m searching for the wrong answers. So when I am about to take another step back, I can’t seem to stop myself and it’s the most infuriating thing in the world. When you know you are falling, but you have no idea how to catch yourself. And then it hit me. It is impossible to catch yourself. For we must all be caught.

It has taken me 19 years to realise that I need help. That I can’t do it alone. I always thought that speaking to those that are close to me and asking for advice was a sign of weakness, and so I never did. I learnt to deal with things myself and I learned to fend for myself, which has made me the person I am today. But it also meant that I fell faster and harder because I didn’t have all the answers. Well, no one does. But some have a better idea than others, you just have to find out. It is better to say something, than to lose your voice completely.

For the first time in a long while, I finally feel caught. And it feels amazing because when I get out of bed in the morning, I don’t want to look back at it. If you feel like you are falling, then reach out to someone or something. Reach out to the only person you trust, to a complete stranger or even a diary. It will be difficult. Just please, for the love of God, please promise me that you won’t let the dust settle.

Ridicule Me

I have spent a long time caring what people think. It’s impossible not to be influenced by the opinions of others. And I am not talking about flaky acquaintances who have the time to talk about you, but not to actually have a conversation with you. I am talking about the people that are closest to you, whose opinions you value and listen to.

I am not an indecisive person, neither do I lack conviction. I have faith in my own judgement, but I realise that this often leads me to make mistakes in my personal and professional life. However, it is my philosophy that it is more fruitful to take risks and pay for them, than to refrain and ponder what could have been done. It isn’t always a fantastic strategy, but I wouldn’t change it because the gains are bigger.

In the last few years, I have tried to tone down what can only be described as a ‘boisterous’ personality. The only way I have learned how to do this is by listening, instead of speaking. By taking as much information as I possibly could, I thought that it could help me to refine the person that I wanted to become. In some senses, this was a good thing. It made me into a more reflective person, which is one of the reasons I started writing, and it taught me that everyone has something to say.

Though that is the danger. When everyone has something to say, it is difficult to know when and where to listen. It just becomes noise. The last few months has made me realise that faith in one’s judgement is not enough, but having faith in one’s actions is more important. I made a big decision at the end of this year that has changed the game for me. For better or worse, it made me realise who to listen to and who to stop.

So that is the lesson I am taking into next year. People will talk, it is in their nature. They will advise and critisize, but it is unlikely they will be able to empathise. Back yourself. Know when to listen, but also know when to ignore. Know who to ignore. Remove the people from your life who don’t add value, and make time for those who do – even if you consider them to be close to you.

And one more thing. Tell the world, “Ridicule Me!” and see if you can take what it throws at you. Adversity and critiscism are necessary for us to progress, so don’t fight it. Encourage it. My favourite quote of all time, by Mahatma Gandhi perfects this, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win.”

Miss Al-Qaeda

After writing a post last week celebrating Swami Vivekananda’s 150th birthday and his impact on the US, and getting a very favourable and heart-warming response I must say, it was interesting to see the news yesterday. For those that haven’t had the chance to see it, the Twitter sphere went crazy last night following the results of the Miss America beauty pageant. For the first time, it has been won by an Indian.

Let me be very clear from the beginning here. I am not in any shape or form a supporter of beauty pageants, nor do I agree with the premise within which they operate. To put it simply, I don’t think that you can rank or quantify ‘beauty’. Having said that, I find it strange how such an outdated institution has dredged up a torrent of horrifying abuse, especially since the anniversary of 9/11 passed us by only a week ago. The bitterness is still there.

A lot of the tweets can be seen here, but let me give you the greatest hits. There is a lot of references to an ‘Arab’, a ‘foreigner’ and not ‘Miss America’ but ‘Miss Al-Qaeda’. The thing that struck me the most was the fact that people were adamant that ‘This is America!’ and Nina Davuluri, Miss New York and the newly crowned Miss America, did not fit into this picture. It seems that the image of America held by some Americans harks back to the days of yore, when non-Caucasians were considered to be inferior citizens. That makes sense, right?

Wrong. Let’s wrap this up nicely so that we don’t need to revisit this again. The best way to deal with idiocy is through reason, and so here is my logic. First of all, the indigenous population of the North Pacific region, now occupied by the USA and Canada, were home to the tribes of ‘Red Indians’ who are now more affectionately termed as Native Americans. Non-whites. Therefore the argument that ‘these people’ do not belong in this country is difficult to argue, when historically, they arrived first.

I was really hoping that with the instatement of the first Black President and the movement of higher ethnic immigration to America would stem this tide of racial ignorance. But these are small stepping stones in this fight. The real heavyweight is education and understanding, of which is not sufficient in Western society. There is no time, no commitment and no hunger to understand why people are different and why this should be celebrated. Instead we descend into pitiful, childish name calling and bullying.

When are we going to realise this? I’ll tell you. When it’s too late.

120 Years Ago Today…

I thought I would bring something a little different to the table. Today is a very sad day for a large amount of people, and by all means we should remember those that perished over a decade ago now. But I thought it would be worth sharing something interesting that I learnt earlier on this year that took everyone I told by surprise. September 11 was a significant date before the atrocities of 2001 ever took place. It happened 120 years ago.

120 years ago, Chicago hosted one of the most important parliaments in the history of the world, but I guarantee you that 90% of you will have no idea about it. The First Parliament of World Religions in 1893 saw the largest congregation of religious officials of the time to see the first integration of western and eastern spiritual philosophy. Members as remote as Tibet and as hallowed as Vatican City made their way to that Mid-Eastern American town to discuss how they could work together to tackle some of the big problems of the time.

Needless to say, the attitude towards these religions is different today, but that is part of my point. On one day, with a gap of 120 years between them we can see the difference between religious cohesion and destruction. The veneer of this momentous conference will be drowned in history by the actions of a small group of organised religious extremists. This is a reminder that this is not merely coincidence, but acts as a poignant mirror of the effects of the changing beliefs of our society.

But we digress. The real hero of this story is Narendra Nath Datta – more famously known as Swami Vivekananda. Or not so famously for some of you. 120 years ago, on this very day, he brought eastern spirituality to western philosophy in only 30 minutes. He began his speech, with “Sisters and Brothers of America,” which received a standing ovation for 10 minutes alone. He showed that these individuals, these delegates, these human beings had a spiritual bond that transcended their mere religious label. He even began by addressing his “sisters” which was ironic considering there were no women delegates at this time…an insight into Western vs. Eastern thinking.

His exploits in America and Europe is probably the reason that many millions practice yoga around the world. And in the same way that Hinduism and the Vedanta way of thinking is revered by those who have religious beliefs, and interestingly, those that do not. Therefore on this day especially, on the anniversary of the speech that changed the world, we should celebrate how it was brought together, rather than how it was nearly torn apart.

It is his 150th birthday this year. I usually have an aversion to ‘inspirational figures’ but I would definitely urge anyone to learn more about the impact that he had in the short 39 years of his life. There is a global exhibition where young people from around the world are going to be talking and sharing the thoughts of Vivekananda to commemorate his birth. There is going to be one near you, wherever you are. Please, if you can, go. You won’t regret it.

http://www.sv150.org.uk/

So What’s In A Name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Sorry Juliet, but I am going to have to disagree with you there. Had Shakespeare never made the namesake of his tragic love story a Romeo, then the romantic label of the star-crossed lover would have passed to a different name. So what am I trying to say? Names are important. They are emotional associations that enable us to create connections with seemingly distant individuals and objects. That’s why people name their cars and their pets, because it isn’t any old dog or Fiesta, it is theirs.

Katie Hopkins has been getting all kinds of flack over the last week due to her comments on the This Morning programme, as seen in the clip above. I think it is mostly because she is an attention-seeking shrew, but I am going to defend her point. No, no, not in the way you are thinking. I am going to draw your attention to how important a name is in the grand scheme of things, with the help of some Freakonomics. I fear many of you will start to unravel this story before I finish telling it.

Why do parents agonise over a name? Why do authors make millions publishing books of baby names? The answer is extremely simple. A name can be (not always mind) a reflection of your social standing, upbringing, heritage, ethnicity and much more. It is a window for someone to peer into your personality without even looking at your face. Whether these first impressions are false or true, they are made regardless. When you read the names Bob, Chardonnay, La’quiesha, Suresh or Mohammed they will conjure up an image, a stereotype that is then difficult to shirk off, unless that individual does something to break your mould.

So what do you do if your name reflects a stereotype? Create one. Recently, not only in celebrity circles, but closer to home, couples have chosen more obscure, unusual names in order to give their child the ‘edge’. Although this is a double-edged sword. It opens up the child to ridicule, intrigue and above all obscurity if it is ill chosen. Harper 7 is a notable example – although the Beckham bit on the end should help. But as a child gets older, that name becomes more an emblem of their individuality, their calling card which helps them stand out from the faceless mass of the growing population. But does a person want to stand out because they have an alternative name or because of something else? That is the eternal question.

Regardless of what you think of Hopkins, she has a point. We judge by names, even if we don’t mean to, for those of us gutsy enough to admit it. She did not put it as eloquently as this because she is, to put it mildly, an idiot. But don’t let that deter you from understanding the gravitas of the point that she couldn’t make. And if you still don’t believe me, check this out. Just because it is not the rational answer, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong. We would all do well to remember that.

Exceptions – Woolwich

I am not about to wade in with a half-measured opinion about the harrowing events of this week. Instead, I am more interested in opening a real discussion about the deeper issues that go past the mere description of the actions of two sociopathic individuals. What I really want to understand is not what happened, but the wider reaction to it from normal people – because that is where the debate and ignorance really lies.

The most important question that I want to answer is why we equate terrorism with religion? It seems that more and more, as attacks and horrible events occur, we seem to jump to the conclusion that it must be down to a religious fanatic? And we tend to place the blame on more monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam – as if those who hold these beliefs are collectively at fault for the actions of a select few. I am not saying that we all harbour extreme prejudice, but I will argue, that for a split second, even if it is just an instinct, when we hear the word ‘terrorist’, do we not think of ‘(religious) extremist’?

I am no conspiracy theorist, but there seems to be serious issues with the way in which these incidents are reported. One of things that infuriated me was the way in which Nick Robinson, political editor on the BBC, referred to the perpetrators as of “Muslim descendant” based on hearsay in Whitehall, rather than actual evidence which was accumulated hours later. It was bad journalism, and by all accounts, he should have known better. There was absolutely no reason to further perpetuate the stereotype, even if he claimed that it was based on a reliable source – it was wrong.

But does that open up the real prejudices that lie just beneath the surface? It seems like we don’t even know what terrorism is anymore. Terrorism is the use of violence or intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. The fact that we look to dive into the religious motivations of these idiots may be what they want us to do, but we should ignore it. We shouldn’t give them the satisfaction. When they tell us how the actions of our governments have made their lives and the lives of their ‘brothers and sisters’ intolerable, remind yourself that these people are isolated. When they tell us that we are killing innocent women and children, remember that you don’t have blood on your hands like they claim. When they tell us that they are killing in the name of their God, know that no God would condone murder in his/her name. Don’t buy into the theories of madness.

See them for who they truly are – disillusioned, violent, ignorant, stupid and most importantly, alone. They act alone and we should treat them as exceptions to the rule. Religious people are not in any way associated with terrorists, so don’t act out against them, otherwise you will be proving the excuses of the idiots that conduct these massacres. Violence begets more violence, hate begets more hate and death begets more death. Let’s stop making the same mistakes and start learning.

Decorum Please

Yesterday, Margaret Thatcher passed away. And I was absolutely disgusted with the reaction and sentiments of some people on all forms of media. Just to be clear before we get carried away, this post is not going to be an endorsement of Lady Thatcher, nor am I going to rant and rave. This is about reminding people to be human beings.

I could not believe some of thing things that people were saying. “Burn in hell” and “I will dance on her rotting grave” were just a selection of the tweets I saw just minutes after acknowledging the saddening news. It made me extremely angry. We must remember that behind her controversial politics, she was a mother and a grandmother and these familial roles should be respected and treated with sensitivity. Imagine how her children and grandchildren must be feeling, seeing idiots in Brixton square dancing and trampling over pictures of her in today’s’ newspapers. It is akin to the trolls that attack tribute pages on social media sites, which add further unnecessary insult to injury.

There are many who have made it clear that Lady Thatcher has systematically ruined their lives, causing them significant hardships which they are yet to recover from. These people have my deepest sympathies, but it does not excuse their behaviour, which is damn near indefensible. The hard truth is that Thatcher has not had any real control of politics for over 20 years. And it defies logic to place the blame of all incidents and bad things on one person’s head when national government is a deep, complicated system that relies on an infrastructure of hundreds of individuals. She was also voted in THREE times, given a majority – and so it is foolish to claim that she was not wanted by the people, when this is clearly not the case.

But putting the petty politics to one side, we have to remember that however controversial, she has written her page in history. And we must respect that. There have been many controversial figures (which I will not name, but you can fill in the blanks) that have earnt our respect, even if they have not made many friends. We must learn from the tenacity and determination of such characters, good or bad, which shape the way that we think and the way that we progress. And we can learn…if we look at the bigger picture, and try not to score cheap points.

All I am asking for is decorum. The British invented it. A little bit more sensitivity and a little less bile. It is cheap, it is degrading and it is pathetic. And nobody wins. Especially not the Thatcher family, who our prayers should be with at this difficult time, so let’s be a little more adult shall we? From the point of view of someone who has lost a family member recently, we need to give them the time and space that they deserve. Free from our own politics. And free from any idiocy.

Humanity costs nothing.